Opinion: When Did Obama Know About CIA Director’s Affair?

David Petraeus and Paula BroadwellBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The standard reaction to last week’s resignation of Central Intelligence Agency Director David Petraeus, following the revelation of his extramarital affair, has been stunned silence. Not so much because of the affair itself —what is one more affair in the slippery world of Washington politics?— but because it involved the eminent figure of Petraeus. Former aides to the retired General have been confiding to journalists that “never in a million years” would they have thought that the high-achieving CIA Director would have risked his career and reputation in such a reckless fashion. Many thought that the relationship between him and his biographer, Paula Broadwell, had grown suspiciously close in recent years; but Petraeus had a general way of seeming beyond reproach.

It is worth pointing out that much of this unfolding story is so far based on hearsay, as opposed to concrete, verifiable information. It is suggested that Petraeus’ extramarital tryst was accidentally discovered by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who were looking into a seemingly unrelated case. Some news outlets, mostly in the UK, suggest that a female employee of the US military’s Joint Special Operations Command contacted the FBI after receiving threatening messages from Broadwell, warning her to “stay away from [her] man” —allegedly Petraeus. While investigating the Gmail account from which the threatening messages were allegedly sent, the FBI allegedly discovered “thousands” of messages exchanged between the CIA Director and Broadwell, some of which were sexually explicit. The investigation was then broadened to include the possibility that Petraeus’ personal email account might have been compromised. Other reports claim that Broadwell terminated her relationship with Petraeus last year, and that it was she who contacted the FBI after the CIA Director “continued to pursue her with hundreds of emails”.

Those familiar with the history of the CIA will be hardly surprised by Petraeus’ womanizing antics. If anything, in recent years scandalous extramarital activity has been toned down at the CIA, an agency that has historically been viewed as a stronghold of out-of-control male chauvinism. One needs only to look back a few decades, when Allen Dulles, the CIA’s longest-serving director, had “at least a hundred” affairs with women during his tenure, according to his sister, Eleanor. This, however, is not to imply that those who are concerned about the institutional character and effectiveness of the Agency should adopt a dismissive attitude toward the revelations. It may indeed be the case that Petraeus committed no crime in the course of his extramarital affair and that American national security was never threatened by it. However, as any junior counterintelligence officer knows, extramarital affairs can —and often do— expose intelligence personnel to blackmail.

For this reason alone, Petraeus had little choice in offering his resignation, and US President Barack Obama had little choice in accepting it. The question, however, remains when exactly the President was informed of this potentially highly damaging situation. We are told that the FBI shared its sensitive findings with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) on election night, November 6. The ODNI passed on the news to the President on November 7, and he was given Petraeus’ offer of resignation on November 8. But could it really be that President Obama was kept in the dark about Petraeus’ indiscretion until the day after the election was decided, and if so why? Or was he perhaps informed earlier, but chose to keep the scandal under wraps, in order to avoid potential complications in the outcome of the election? Ultimately, which is worse? A President kept in the dark about a potentially high-level penetration in the nation’s foremost covert-action agency, or the White House keeping this information secret for political reasons?

IntelNews hears that members of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence are “upset” that the FBI did not give them a heads up of the probe into General Petraeus’ extramarital antics. If this is indeed true, the Committee now has a strong impetus to investigate the handling of this issue by the FBI, the White House, and the CIA itself. Security is not a partisan issue, and Congress is now presented with its first post-election opportunity to demonstrate this.

8 Responses to Opinion: When Did Obama Know About CIA Director’s Affair?

  1. Kidd says:

    congress needs to move on and deal with the issues that matter most to the citizens and not get embroiled in a light caper. this is tabloid trash and the government needs to stay focused on fixing what’s broke. and the press needs to walk away from this as well.

  2. sage says:

    Do you really think the press will walk away from this? While the CIA keeps track of everybody else, the public has the right to know what is going on behind closed doors. So he’s having sex under his desk and having Angelina Jolie visit his office. His ego and a crazy woman in mid-life crisis spoiled all of his fun. The Repubs went right back to gridlock after the election and NOTHING is going to get done for the American people. At least Romney was stopped from sending us back to the Stone Age.

  3. Big Apple PI says:

    Just a few thoughts about this multi-layered issue. POTUS had previously relieved the highly decorated Gen. McChrystal in Afghanistan with Gen. Petraeus, the “surge savior” of Iraq. A war-time Commander-in-Chief having to cashier two popular, respected and effective leaders of his High Command over unprofessional conduct must have been brutal for him. Following a prostitution scandal involving the much respected USSS in April 2012, an optics issue erupted for the Administration, this time in an election year. The Benghazi incident turned into a political football by the GOP and a potential optics nightmare for the Administration. But “politics should stop at the border” and the GOP witch-hunt over the Benghazi incident will uncover more about USG activities abroad than CIA would prefer– this is a non-partisan issue, much like superstorm Sandy. D/CIA Petraeus faced a “perfect storm” arrayed against him: containing his personal embarrassment while conducting damage control over CIA activities overseas during the run-up to the elections. The FBI investigation into the threatening e-mails was kept well away from Congress and staffers until after the election to avoid leaks and possibly affecting the polls. The FBI will most likely determine that national security was not compromised by D/CIA’s peccadillo. Similarly, former NYS Governor Eliot Spitzer was undone by an FBI investigation into a prostitution ring which unintentionallyled to him.

  4. davidi says:

    So what? Was the General married to Obama or to CIA too?!

  5. TFH says:

    It is sad that the sex life of anyone can make the big news and also an internal security risk for a puritanical nation like the United States.

  6. Joseph says:

    Looks like FBI blackmailed him thus preventing other foreign hostiles to do the same

  7. Prof says:

    Shouldn’t the FBI check if either of these women are possible ISI/Taliban/Iranian deep-cover agents? A great way to to discredit the CIA and the US effort in Afghanistan?

    Hilarious but serious too. Over here (UK) an affair between the MI6 chief-C and a woman would be covered up.

  8. Elena says:

    casualobserver Thanks for posting this redear’s digest version, Joe. I had no interest in trying to follow all the various reporting on this story other than this aspect the FBI seemingly concluded there was no security breach, no serious criminal activity, and therefore no need to take things any further. But, this short amount of soap opera was quite palatable.

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